These days we frequently read news stories about widows who are offered red clothes, bangles and tika to wear by their in-laws and relatives. It may sound revolutionary in the first place, however I feel widows have many other problems that must be given a top priority.
I have closely observed the life of some widows. Two of them are always in my mind – one is my mother’s eldest sister and another is her sister-in-law. My maiju lost her husband at the age of nine and thuliama at sixteen. After they became widows, the two were sent to their parental home to share the same fate.
Of the two, I am more concerned about my maiju who became a widow at the age of nine. We can imagine how little she must have known about marriage in such a tender age! She wasted all her youth serving her brother’s family. Now she is eighty plus, living with her brother’s family although she is persistently insulted by them. The condition of my thuliama, who took shelter in my maternal uncle’s home at the age of sixteen, is no different. She is old and frail, unable to handle any household chores.
When I think of these women a lot of disturbing questions haunt my mind. For what crime did they have to suffer so much? Why are widows deprived of their husband’s property and at the same time, denied a single penny from their parents? Why were they compelled to sacrifice their sexual desires? I feel terribly for those women who can neither experience motherhood nor enjoy any of the worldly pleasures. Their position is not better than that of a slave. They sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others’. What have they gained for themselves? Nothing else except verbal sympathy and hatred!
The condition of the widows has remained pathetic to this date. They do not have a strong voice and their personal freedom has been completely restricted. They cannot make their own choices. They can’t make decisions about their lives. And, only a red sari can’t wipe a widow’s countless miseries, especially in the case of those who are still young.
Young widows in our society suffer from many problems. Red dress, tika or red bangles are not enough for them to live a normal life. They must get support from all parts of the society. They must be given freedom to make their own choices and encouraged to become self-reliant so that they do not have to be the slaves of others.
If a widow wants to marry again, she must not be discouraged to start a new life and at the same time, it must be taken as something very normal. In short, the life of a widow and widower must be the same and there should not be any discrimination on the basis of sex.
(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Tuesday, August 2, 2005)